If the mango trees could talk as much as I do on my cellular!

Saw a movie called “If the mango trees could talk” or something along that lines. It was a 1 hr documentary (Canadian-made!) telling the story of the Guatemalan Armed Conflict from the eyes of 10 children, deeply affected by the Civil War, who are scattered throughout different Guatemalan regions. What continues to haunt me is one story told by a 12 year old boy (at the time of the War and only 4 foot tall!) who was one of the armed Guerrillas, touting a rifle and machete at the same young age as my nephew!

I had quite a shock after dinner when I attempted to send a text message on my cellular. Seems that my fears of not being able to spend 100 QZ in the 15 days of phone card expiry were highly suspect and mislaid. In trying to place a call from the keys of my phone, I was abruptly told that my funds were insufficient for this service. Wow! Boy was I wrong in thinking that calls to foreign countries were inexpensive …. I made a 12 minute call to the UK and sent several text messages and somehow managed to spend the entire sum in less than 24 hours! Rather than the 1 qz that I was told it would cost to call the UK, I’m now told by experienced European phone subscribers that it’s more like $1.50US a minute! Ack! Wish I had done a bit more research before going hog wild … Good thing it’s a pay-as-you-go service or I’d be scuppered at the end of the month upon receiving an invoice! Live and learn 🙂 … my new toy is more costly than I had hoped. Yet still I marvel at its convenience and enjoy the ability to call / text my loved ones back home out of the blue when they least expect it!

Reigning animals

It literally rained cats and dogs last night … After a powerful thunderous and brilliantly-lit storm subsided, I was rudely aroused by a focal chorus of about 100 excited growling and barking dogs who kept me awake into the waking hours of my normal day. I gave in to wakefulness, after miserably failing to drown out the noise with a pair of earplugs, and spent some time trying to memorize my growing list of Spanish vocabulary.

Today’s afternoon school activity consisted of a drawn-out but intriguing visit to Salcaja (a Mayan town 30 minutes from Xela) to witness and experience the Tuesday-only market filled with local handmaid Mayan clothes; it proved to be typically expressive and colourful 3rd-world country market (flies engulfing slabs of meat, mud and garbage strewn everywhere, an incredible assortment of tropical veg and fruit — very much appealing but questionably safe for any Americanized stomach, etc). Then went to Central Americas oldest church – built in 1524. Quite beautiful maintaining all the while a very simplistic form and structure. After tearing ourselves away from the bonds of an incredibly enthusiastic tour guide, we then corralled ourselves into a tiny room to bear witness to a local man weaving a reel of traditional Guatemalan cloth (brilliantly patterned, colourful and specific to each town/region). From my understanding, it takes 8 weeks for him to weave the material for 1 complete skirt (Huipile as it’s known indigenously).
Salcaja is also famous for its two specialty liquors, Caldo de Fruitas which is fermented fruit & rum, as well as Creole Rompopo which is made from egg yokes. We had the chance to sample and potentially buy some of the traditional ‘fruity moonshine’. Quite strong and tasty; however, not my 1st liquor of choice :).

The time had come for me to buy another phone card for my cellular. Got excited because today was ‘double time’ — basically you get double the time for the money you spend. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the card expires within 15 days {which actually doesn’t make it that much of a bargain as I wouldn’t necessarily use up that amount of $ so quickly}. Oh well, lesson learned. Thank goodness for Jeanie, another student along on the afternoon excursion (she’s fluent in Spanish). She was able to help me with setting up and retrieving my voicemail as well as helping to add my time to my phone. It’s hard to realize how complicated the simple things in life can become when you don’t speak the language (whether it be that of a foreign country, a computer or of life in general).

Not knowing what to write

For once, I am speechless and don’t know what to write or say (or how). I don’t really want to speak about my news on this public forum, in consideration for my family, at this point anyway. But I would so love if you would keep my family in your thoughts and prayers. That would mean the world to me. That and sending me a big mental hug would be so loved and appreciated.

Sunrise over Lake Atitlán

I arose early, as usual, wanting to savour the possible sunrise over the volcanoes and lake. Although it was 6:45am ,the sun had crested already but the skies were clear and crisp, with a smattering of fog to add some character to the twelve identified towns (with the names of Christ’s apostles) surrounding Lake Atitlán. After a scrumptious breakfast drawn out over 3 hours, Heidi and I set out to explore the Sunday market. Colour abounded all around us, in the form of food, clothing and character. The beautiful Mayan clothing is very different here from that of Xela. So much so that we were drawn to this one shop just selling the hand-woven material. And what a treasure … I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the two little daughters of the owner. Cute as buttons with miniature huipiles encasing their tiny little bodies. So unbelievably photogenic and full of laughter, smiles and the cutest voices, smooth and infectiously sweet as a bottle of the finest Ice Wine. We took a mountain of photos and in return treated the girls to shaved ice with sickly syrup :>o. Priceless, truly ….
Before leaving, I just had to learn the trade of bracelet-making, indigenous to this region. Enrique and his wife were patient and kind in selling me the tools I needed to make a few souvenirs … I figured that I would have the time to make a few in a year! I only bought a small amount of cord, knowing that I’d be back soon, not wanting to carry too much with me. And with that lesson in tow, we piled into our van and set off for Xela on a crazy winding journey back to our homestay.

San Pedro a-go-go

San Pedro is a community 1560 meters above sea level located in the skirts of the volcanoes Toliman and San Pedro. What a weekend this turned out to be! An extravaganza of photo taking with breathtaking opportunities at every corner existing, capturing the sights, sounds, tastes and beauty that Guatemala beholds. It was fantastic … 350 photos taken in total! And during this time, my lovely roommate, Heidi from Austria, accompanied me in my quest for discovery with the plethora of unique opportunities here. It was truly spectacular to explore this small shore side town, which manages to successfully intertwine the worlds of traditional Mayan with first-world Hippies and Tourists, so prevalent in this region around Lake Atitlán. And what a gorgeous lake it is … Charles Dickens lauded its beauty to the world back in the 60s, much due, I believe, to the 3 volcanoes which surround the lake (stoic guardians), silent but strong.

The drive here in our relatively safe and somewhat less-scary-than-a-chicken-bus minivan, packed full of 18 people (with seats for only 15), was an experience in itself! Both the descent into and ascent from Lake Atitlán was quite hairy, to say the least. Just from watching the other vehicles on the road, I was grateful for our means of transport, especially as the switchback curves were too sharp for most vehicles (but especially for the long buses and trucks); it was often necessary for our minivan to stop and reverse. At those times, you pray that the brakes are good. You also pray that the driver has phenomenal skills, without the kamikaze’s touch that is unfortunately all too common (both here and in India!). Anyway, I didn’t see any other vehicle protruding from the lake so I suppose that accidents are uncommon in these foothills. Again I could be wrong :).

After settling into our barren but clean hotel room, we gathered at a local restaurant, just by the docks, with an outstanding view of our weekend home. The food was scrumptious (am I ever to acquire a taste for the avocado, which is served EVERYWHERE in Guatemala?) and the company fun and light — cats and dogs abounded keeping us amused with their persistence. With a craving for discovery, a group of us set off on a lovely ramble around the edge of the lake. Lush greenery and fabulous gardens, almost like that of a rainforest, enveloped us at times. We were on a search for a private beach entrance but upon finding one, it was inhabited by a lone nude sunbather, so we returned to San Pedro happy with our excursion. Heidi and I then went off exploring the town, finding a lovely little hotel to rest at and enjoy great conversation. I discovered San Pedro Spanish School when rambling back and was immediately wanting of a new school to explore the language at further. This seemed perfect and I was left wanting for more. Something to look into, for certain! We ran into our group, heading for dinner, on our way back but opted to spend a quiet evening in, first burning some music CDs at Nik’s Place (they have 1000’s of albums for you to purchase a pirate from :)) and watching the beginnings of the movie ‘Fight Club’. Fantastic film!

Guatemalan festivities

As is true of every Friday night at Juan Sissay, again this week we had a Graduation party, with a twist – at the school we cooked a typical Guatemalan meal prior to the official ‘ceremony’. I loved the sangria (a steaming ‘Guatemalan tea’ which acts more like a desert/meal) made up of a tasty tropical fruit salad that was boiled and brought to life even further with leaves of lemongrass and a giant splash of rum (if we so chose)! Wilberth was in charge of the decorations, so after the meal was underway, I helped to cre8tive a festive mood with simple but lovely decorations. A lovely evening was had by all, but as usual, I left earlier than most and slipped away early so as to get a good nights sleep in, in preparation for a weekend away at the Lake.

Homeless in Guatemala

Heidi had a bad experience last night seeing a homeless crippled woman lying (dead??) on the street, right at the foothold of her homestay. No one cared or helped her. Two hours of waiting … No one wanted to become involved and her Housemother got very angry when Heidi used a blanket to cover this poor woman. It’s not appropriate and definitely considered wrong in this culture … More attention was given to the fact that a valuable blanket was lost rather then to the actual poor woman who was ignored and left for dead in the street. At times I truly don’t understand this culture … I’m finding that the convictions and beliefs held here are very similar to the attitudes in Africa where life doesn’t necessary have the same value that it does in the Western world.

Favourites in my life

I bought my first Spanish ‘novel’ today … one of my favourites actually:: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I’m really quite excited at the prospect of reading this short novel. Finding the time is another story!

Today our class all decided to go see the movie “The DaVinci Code” (2 for the price of 1, and at 10 qz that’s a bargain) … the film was in English but with Spanish subtitles. What I found kind of cool about this movie was the use of both the French and Latin language interchangeably throughout the film (small spurts) and because of the Spanish subtitles, quite often I understood what was being said by just reading the Spanish.

What an incredible fascinating absolutely fantastic movie. I really can’t wait to read the book. The movie kept me on the edge of my seat, never at once fully guessing or understanding the story/plot fully. I love this kind of plot, one which keeps me intrigued from beginning to end and has me thinking about the storyline far beyond the movie’s end. I highly recommend this to anyone, if you get the chance.

i love my new backpack!

With each passing day, I realize that I am madly in love with my new backpack (which houses my precious laptop as I carry it back and forth to the internet café / the school’s internet access daily, sometimes in the pouring rain). Is loving an inanimate object okay? Materialistic perhaps, but realizing that it houses my connection to home and work and pleasure, it’s understandable (I think anyways)! :).

Here’s a direct quote from Crumpler’s website (I believe in spreading word where credit is due):

Crumpler make bold bags that are born for the hard miles. CRUMPLER BAGS are made of the best new tech materials. ONLY THE HIGHEST QUALITY STUFF IS USED: CHICKEN TEX (TM) PLUS RIPSTOP LINING, UNBREAKABLE SIZE 10 ZIPS, INDUSTRIAL SEAT BELT WEBBING, VERY STRONG BELT BUCKLES and, at the last count, only 14 molluscs have died in the process of making Crumpler Bags, (not counting the one we motorised and used as a portable shaver).


Speaking of love, I’ve discovered the joys of Skype … Free internet ‘phone’ calls (apart from the cost of the internet connection … which is under $1 an hour for me!) when calling from computer to computer, and about 4 cents a minute when calling any other phone worldwide (mobile or land). If anyone is interested in joining Skype and adding me as a contact, my user ID is skydiva1967; this way we can communicate on the internet phone when you see me online 🙂 ( which nowadays, is far less frequent in duration than when I first arrived).

Casual observations

Sometimes its difficult to write about everything in my day that’s rather interesting, especially when I continuously find myself without much time in my day to sleep, let alone write or play :). So in a chaotic mess of verbosity, I’m going to list what I think are some interesting but very casual observations whilst here in Xela.

  • my first housemother loves to sing to the songs on the radio. I’ve noticed a pattern or mimicry in some of the more popular Ladino songs … they have a tendency to incorporate either Whitney Houston’s many pop songs and / or specifically Dean Martin’s “My Way”.
  • what truly makes a house a home, for me anyway here in Guatemala, is singing and laughter. Much of that where I first lived in Xela! Now here in my second home (where I am truly happy), there are a few students here and lots of interesting conversation (from what little I can understand. That makes for a wonderful environment to live in as well.
  • Guatemala is a beautifully simple country filled with colourful Mayan costumes and an exquisite cultural appeal like no other I’ve witnessed; however, I am constantly taken aback by the pollution which is incredibly thick at times, the guilty party being fume-belching chicken buses/vehicles Garbage is strewn everywhere (very much reminiscent of India and other 3rd world countries I’ve visited) and a tragic environmental disaster in the making.
  • I don’t think that I’ll be eating eggs, white rice or white bread after leaving Guatemala, ever again! I’ve never really liked avocados but I’m slowly acquiring a taste for that and guacamole. Interesting …. I’m absolutely loving the frijoles (completos) as this time (could be three meals a day if I had my way vs. the alternative) so I reserve my judgement as to how I’ll feel when leaving. 🙂 I do wish, however, that I could buy ‘Beano’ in this country … No such luck 😉
  • I’m putting on weight, damn … It’s really hard to eat as many fresh vegetables and/or fruit as I’d like to, with the difficulties of sanitation and clean water. So the alternative is to eat mostly carbs, which has a tendency to pack on a punch. 😮 am hoping that my new routine of walking up & down the mountain (which leads to Los Vanos — the ‘natural’ volcanic sauna) for 30 minutes a day + my yoga will help?! I’ve moved to a new house and am hoping to receive a bit less carbs and more fresh produce??!
  • sometimes I’m still scared (or rather nervous) with thunder and lightening (especially if caught unaware, outside or inside). It’s the rainy season now and it’s starting to rain a lot — so much dampness and noise …. And I tend to hibernate indoors where it’s dry like I do in the winter in Canada. But after a few minutes of listening to the thunder, my heart calms and I enjoy the sound of the pouring rain enraptured with the fight between the Gods (as Mayan mythology describes).
  • even though I feel my Spanish is crawling along at a snail’s pace, I’ve still come a long way from not knowing much of anything in the language! However, I’m far from being understandably conversant and I still sound like a gringo 🙂
  • I miss my loved ones more than I ever have when travelling from home … And this coming from a wayward traveller whose been travelling for the past 18+ years (with a 4 year intermission in between).
  • I am blessed to have this opportunity to challenge myself even though there have been MANY moments where I’ve almost packed my bags and grabbed the next chicken bus to Guatemala City. I’m not out of the woods yet ….
  • Las Ruinas in Zaculeu are incredibly impressive even though they’re small in comparison to the Mayan temple and city of Tikkal. Bigger isn’t always better ….
  • digital cameras RULE … I can snap away to my hearts content and not have to worry about cost of development etc. it’s a cre8tive force that I value beyond words (read journal entry http://www.cre8tivevisions.com/journal/2005/feb.html#feb19_05 to understand fully what I mean!) or measure. Speaking of photos, I apologize profusely for not uploading any photos. It’s not that I haven’t taken any good ones, it’s just that I haven’t discovered the time yet to edit them? I’ve been using Photoshop to date and I’ve yet to find a fast, efficient editor to do the kind of ‘magic’ that I want to! Any suggestions for the MAC? I’d like to use Aperture (a professional photo editor for the MAC by Adobe), but that is muchos dinero and for now, Photoshop CS will have to do (still a wonderful tool … my favourite actually).
  • I LOVE my new house, especially my room as it’s spacious and colourful and in a totally different atmosphere. My new housemother lives with her two brothers and they are very talkative. There are 3 other students (a couple from Montreal and a British guy who has now left the school and is heading home in a week) staying within the house, which expands upon the dinner conversation, or so I’ve found thus far on my 2nd day 🙂

I’m sure I’ll add to this list with each passing day, as every moment is a new journey of discovery. Shouldn’t it be, no matter where you are??!

Peace …